Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zhelensky told CNN that he did not want to give up parts of eastern Ukraine to end the war with Russia and that the Ukrainian military was ready to fight Moscow’s forces in the Donbass region. And the course of the whole war.
In an exclusive interview with CNN’s Jack Tapper on Friday from the president’s office in Kyiv, Zelensky said his country had no guarantee that Russia would not try to retake Kyiv if it could capture Donbass.
“This is why it is so important that we do not allow them and keep them on our base, because this war … it will affect the course of the whole war,” Zhelensky said.
“Because I do not trust the Russian military and the Russian leadership,” he continued. “That’s why we fought them, they left, and we understand that it does not mean that they can catch Donbass from Kiev – from the north, from Chernihiv and that direction – they will not come further to Kiev.
More than seven weeks after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine, Zelensky’s interview with CNN on Friday showed that the Ukrainian military’s victory against Russia’s attack on US intelligence was a surprise – and that the Kremlin was planning a swift and decisive action.
Asked by Topper if Ukraine would win the conflict, Zhelensky said, “Yes, of course, and I will.”
However, at the same time, Ukraine has suffered horrific civilian casualties across the country in the midst of fighting. Zhelensky told CNN that the world must be prepared for the possibility of using a tactical nuclear weapon because Putin does not respect Ukrainian lives. Zhelensky spoke in Ukrainian and English about the emergency assistance his army still needed to prevent an impending Russian invasion of eastern and southern Ukraine, and the horrors his country faced.
‘The scariest thing I’ve ever seen in my life’: Zhelensky responded to the video
US President Joe Biden said last week that the massacre of civilians by Russian forces appeared to be genocide.
“I have the same opinion as President Biden,” Zhelensky said. “Look what happened in Pucha. It is clear that this is not a war, it is a genocide. They just killed people. People, not soldiers. They shot people in the streets. People were cycling, walking on the bus or on the street. The streets were lined with corpses.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who has been diplomatically involved with Putin, said he did not think it was constructive to raise rhetoric in response to Biden’s comments on the genocide. Zhelensky said he had spoken to Macron last week and that he should go to Ukraine to witness the atrocities.
“I think he should take some steps to ensure that Russia engages in the negotiations. I told him he should understand that this is nothing but war and genocide,” Zhelensky said. I hope he understands.
Zhelensky also said he wanted Biden to come to Ukraine. Although he said US officials were still “in consultation” about whether a top US official would visit Ukraine, the US president last week suggested he wanted to go.
Zhelensky talks about his children
“I think he’s coming,” Zhelensky said when asked if he had any plans to visit the U.S. president about Biden. “I mean, of course, his decision. And the security situation depends – I mean – but I think he’s the leader of the United States, which is why he should come here.
When asked about a video released last week showing a Ukrainian woman finding her son’s body in a well, Zhelensky said, “This is the scariest thing I have ever seen in my life.”
He was emotional about the death caused by the war in Ukraine and said it was “a great pain for me” to see the lives lost. Gelensky, who lost his family in the Holocaust, was asked what he thinks of politicians around the world saying “never again” on International Holocaust Memorial Day.
“I do not trust the world,” he said in English. “We do not believe the words. After the expansion of Russia, we do not trust our neighbors. We do not believe all this.
“We have confidence in ourselves, our people, our confidence in our armed forces and our confidence that nations will support us not only in their words but also in their actions,” Zhelensky continued in Ukrainian. “It simply came to our notice then. Never again. In fact, everyone is talking about it, yet, as you can see, not everyone has the courage.
Zelensky said Biden’s approval last week of $ 800 million in additional funding to go to Ukraine for new and improved weapons was helpful – but still needed.
“Of course, we need more. But I’m glad he’s helping us now,” Zhelensky said. “Now I feel like we have a clear conversation. This is a conversation with some twists and turns. And not just talking. This is very difficult because there are not many countries that have really helped us.
Zhelensky said the most important factor was the speed with which the Ukrainian forces could get the weapons they needed. He dismissed some concerns raised by the United States and other countries that Ukrainian soldiers were not trained to use some of the weapons the country asked for.
“There are providers of solutions, but they seem to be self-serving. So this is not exactly what we have,” Zhelensky said. “We are ready to use any kind of equipment, but it must be delivered very quickly. We also have the ability to learn how to use new equipment. But it must come quickly.
Zhelensky weighs in on whether Putin can use nuclear weapons
Zhelensky said he was ready to engage diplomatically with Russia to end the war but that Russia’s attacks on Ukrainians would make it harder to do so.
“Like I said before, what is the price of all this? It’s people. Many were killed. Who pays for all this? That is Ukraine. We are the only ones, ”Zhelensky said. “So for us, this is a huge expense. We will talk if we get a chance to speak. But should we speak only under Russian final warning? It’s a question of attitude towards us, not about whether the conversation is ‘good’ or ‘bad’. It is an impossible thing.”
Zhelensky was asked how he should be remembered, admitting that he still had a target on his back from the Kremlin when the war broke out.
“A man who loved life to the fullest,” he replied. “Loved his family and loved his homeland. Definitely not a hero. I just want people to take me as they are. A regular man.”
This story has been updated with more details.